You probably already know this, but fights performed by nonprofessionals suck.
I saw a fight in high school. When it started, my body shut down most of its senses: taste, touch, hearing, and smell disappeared. I became a set of eyes only, hovering like a spirit and following every move.
Every move was stupid.
I wanted huge punches to the teeth and nose. And blood. I wanted roundhouse kicks and cracking ribs.
What I got was this:
One fighter, a tall kid with curly red hair that hung down around his ears, making him look like a wet Ronald McDonald, climbed onto the back of another kid, a big one with aviator glasses and Mad Max style dental-braces, and started pulling his hair. Wet Ronald pulled until Braces cried out for mercy.
That was it. And these were the tough guys of my class. I wandered out of physical education wiser and sad.
In 7th grade, I walked into the gym and witnessed two boys standing as close as dancers and trying to punch each other in the face.
In the atmosphere around their heads, a swarm of skinny arms and fists flew, but no one could connect. They were too close. Their many little punches had only the range of movement available in a coffin.
I watched and watched. They tried so hard. Then one boy started kicking.
These were martial arts kicks, but the boy was no artist. Technically, his leg was having spasms, not kicks. But it worked. The fight was over. I think it ended because both boys pitied the leg and realized life is too short for fights that last forever and go nowhere.
Then there was my fight.
It happened at Camp Calvary, a little Christian camp in the boondocks of Maine where my parents met. Dad was a god there. He loved that camp and still does.
I hated it.
Christian kids are cruel. Everlasting life makes them cocky. They wear grace like a fire suit as they burn every bridge in the land.
At Camp Calvary, kids stole from me, lied to me, and they didn’t warn me that when you eat five pieces of cherry pie after lasagna, you’re going to die on a toilet in the middle of the night.
One day, a friend and I were kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the gym, trying to look occupied so no one would make us play basketball.
It was going well until this little kid about eight-years-old started stealing the ball from us. He kept zipping in and kicking it away, and we’d have to chase it down.
“Stop,” I said.
He didn’t stop.
“Quit it!” I growled.
“Never.” And he did it again.
My friend looked afraid. With the kid continuously stealing our occupation, we were beginning to appear dangerously available. We were becoming boys who might at any moment be drafted into the basketball match that was squeaking and thumping at the other end of the gym like a machine from hell.
I had to do something before we were taken, forced to remove our shirts and run and sweat and bump into angry people on the court for the rest of our lives.
The punk kid stole the ball again. But I didn’t go after the ball this time.
I went after the kid.
To be fair, he was probably only bothering us to protect himself from basketball too. I should have had pity.
Instead, I grabbed him around the neck.
My plan was to twist hard and throw him onto the floor. This would be a good lesson. After getting twisted and thrown, he would grow up and stop trying to ruin everything.
But the kid turned out to be incredibly well balanced.
I twisted to the right, uprooting his feet from the floor. His legs whipped out like kite tails, but only for a second, not long enough for me to let go.
Those feet came down fast and anchored to the floor. I twisted left. Again the legs and feet flipped up. Again the perfect landing.
This kid was mighty, stable as Atlas.
I tried about ten times and was drawing the attention of other kids. Even the basketballers slowed down to glance our way. Disaster. And I was getting tired. I had to give up.
So, I let go. The kid should have run away rubbing his neck and taken a long walk to consider what made him the kind of person people wanted to flip. Instead, he stuck around. He stayed close to me. He started kicking my shins.
Having a shin kicked is painful. It would hurt even if you got attacked this way by a hamster.
Though the kid was hurting me, I felt sorry for what I’d done. I had never been fully invested in our fight anyway. After the first attempt to toss him failed, all my anger left me. From then on, I was just trying to flip him to get him out of the misery of being in a headlock.
I said, “I’m sorry.”
The kid said, “Shut up,” and kept kicking.
It didn’t seem like it was ever going to stop. But then my friend said, “Hey,” and kicked the ball at us. Immediately, the kid broke away and went after the ball.
My friend followed and, miraculously, the two of them started playing pass.
Incredible. My lesson worked. I had fixed the dumb kid, turning him into a useful citizen of Camp Calvary.
Just then, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned. A sweaty teen was standing there with a basketball in his hand.
“Skins,” he said.
And for the next several years of my life, without food, sleep, or the release of death, I thumped and squeaked up and down the gym floor, watching my friend and the enemy play, safe and sound.